Hollywood, Calif. If “Slumdog Millionaire” doesn’t snag the Oscar for best picture, then the academy might consider creating a new award for it this year: the only Oscar-buzzed film you didn’t feel like you had already seen before you actually saw it.
Seriously, after being confronted for months now by the lovely yet static faces of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett on every bus stop and billboard in town, after reading story after story about how the filmmakers used CG to age him backward, or how the “slim” (it’s always referred to as “slim”) F. Scott Fitzgerald tale was fortified into a feature film, does one need to plunk down $10 to actually see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”?
“Revolutionary Road,” meanwhile, has the blessing/curse of being a resurrected cult novel, so on top of all the film writers waxing rhapsodic over the re-pairing of “Titanic’s” power couple, all the literary types -- book editors and critics -- got to weigh in too. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know what happens to Kate Winslet’s character? Because I do, and I have yet to see the film or read the book.
But then, in a year dominated by adapted works -- either from books (“Button”), real life (“Milk,” “Frost/Nixon”) or plays (“Doubt,” “Frost/Nixon”), surprise endings are clearly not high on filmmakers’ agendas. Now, I know you can’t have “The Crying Game” every year, and as for biopics, well, the academy loves them, and it is hard to beat a good biopic. But wouldn’t it be nice to have, say, a “Million Dollar Baby” in the mix? Remember how coy all the critics were when that came rushing into the theaters at the 11th hour? How shocked we all were by the sucker punch and the heartbreak that followed?
This year, the Oscar race, with a few exceptions, seems to be all about the performance. Meryl Streep embodying Sister Aloysius, Frank Langella excavating Richard Nixon, Sean Penn miraculously capturing Harvey Milk, Kate Winslet channeling suburban anguish and former-Nazi anguish (seriously, as she herself admitted in a hilarious episode of “Extras,” she really needs to win one already). In rushing to showcase these splendid moments of acting, there has been little regard for guarding the stories.
I know, I know, the answer is this: If you hate spoilers, don’t read the stories. But in these Oscar-frenzied weeks, that pretty much means don’t read any entertainment or arts news at all. In my business, that’s just not an option.
And it’s not just the stories. It’s the trailers and the billboards and the Web sites and the general saturation of an ever-shortening, increasingly fraught Oscar season that has indeed become a horse race rather than a careful consideration of the year’s films.
So I’m off to see “Last Chance Harvey,” which despite its headline cast (Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman) has generated so little Oscar buzz that I honestly don’t know exactly what the film’s about. And these days, that’s worth 10 bucks.